Women’s Music Festival Defends Decades-Long Stance On Excluding Trans Women

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 10.46.58 AMThe Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival just wrapped up its 39th year, and not without controversy after enduring a boycott for telling trans women yet again they aren’t welcome at the six day community event.

The Indigo Girls became the latest high-profile protestors. Though they still performed at this year’s event, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers released the following statement on their website:

“We have made it clear that this will be our last time at the Festival until MWMF shows visible and concrete signs of changing their intention. We have no animosity towards anyone in this case but see the deep and fearless legacy that MWMF has had during its existence and we honor that. We also honor the prayerfulness that has been a part of this struggle on both sides.”

And now that the festival is looking towards their milestone 40th anniversary next year, festival founder Lisa Vogel put out a statement on her personal Facebook page to address the policy of only welcoming “womyn born womyn.”

Her statement reads to the effect of “trans women aren’t asked to leave the festival, they’re just asked not to come in the first place,” while maintaining her heartfelt opinion that a space designated for women who had the unique experience of growing up as girls is meaningful at the expense of other experiences. She also notes the importance of having a lesbian-centric space, though she doesn’t mention the fact that trans women can be gay or straight just like everyone else.

Here is her full statement:

1. Get Your Facts Straight

As the 39th Festival closes and we turn our hearts and minds to our landmark 40th anniversary, we reiterate that Michfest recognizes trans womyn as womyn – and they are our sisters. We do not fear their presence among us, a false claim repeatedly made. What we resist – and what we will never stop fighting – is the continued erasure and disrespect for the specific experience of being born and living as female in a patriarchal, misogynist world.

Over 20 years ago, we asked Nancy Burkholder, a trans womon, to leave the Land. That was wrong, and for that, we are sorry. We, alongside the rest of the LGBTQ community, have learned and changed a great deal over our 39-year history. We speak to you now in 2014 after two decades of evolution; an evolution grown from our willingness to stay in hard conversations, just as we do every year around issues of race, ability, class and gender. Since that single incident, Festival organizers have never asked a trans womon to leave the Festival. We have a radical commitment to creating a space where for one week a year, no one’s gender is questioned – it’s one of the most unique and valued aspects of the Festival. The Michfest community has always been populated by womyn who bear the burden of unwanted gender scrutiny every day.

The truth is, trans womyn and trans men attend the Festival, blog about their experiences, and work on crew. Again, it is not the inclusion of trans womyn at Festival that we resist; it is the erasure of the specificity of female experience in the discussion of about the space itself that stifles progress in this conversation. As long as those who boycott and threaten Michfest do not acknowledge the reasons why the space was created in the first place, and has remained vital for four decades, the conversation remains deadlocked.

2. Acknowledge the Validity of Autonomous, Female-Defined Space Michfest is widely known as a predominantly lesbian community.

This does not mean that heterosexual womyn, bisexual womyn, or those who do not share this identity are not present or welcome. But for a week, we collectively experience a lesbian-centered world; we experience what it feels like to be in a community defined by lesbian culture.

3. Acknowledge That Michfest Creates Spaces That Do Not Exist Elsewhere.

This year, thousands of womyn and girls from 3 weeks to 92 years old attended our 39th Festival. This included over 75 deaf womyn who came to rejuvenate and be in community. Nearly 200 womyn with disabilities came into the woods to thrive. At one of the workshops held this year, young womyn stated that until they came to Festival, they had never seen an old gender-non-conforming female in person; they did not know that those womyn existed. We built this space to let these womyn be seen and celebrated. We built this space around the fierce solidarity of female experience that has always been and continues to be deconstructed into invisibility; where that unique experience is relegated to a place of dishonor. Whenever females honor ourselves, wherever we take up space, and sit collectively in the source of our collective power, we are burned and stoned, both literally and metaphorically.

4. Turn Your Energy Towards the Real Enemies of Female and LGBTQ Liberation.

While the abuse and disenfranchisement of womyn and girls escalates around the world and LGBTQ people experience life-threatening harms, LGBTQ organizations have turned inwards on a curious target – a weeklong music festival that does not ban or exclude anyone, that simply seeks to devote its focus to an experience that is denigrated in the larger world: the experience of being born and living as female.
Equality Michigan and the organizations endorsing its petition including HRC, the Task Force, NCLR and the National Black Justice Coalition, are targeting Michfest with McCarthy-era blacklist tactics. Specifically, they have called for attendees and artists to boycott the event, and – astonishingly – have threatened the livelihood of artists and vendors by branding those who participate in the Festival as “having committed anti-transgender discrimination.”

These organizations are targeting artists who perform at Michfest while remaining completely silent when queer-identified artists play at venues that generate profits for racist, transphobic, and homophobic corporate entities and individuals, whose interests are dangerous to the global LGBTQ movement and all basic human rights.
We call on the constituents, donors, and dues-paying members of the LGBTQ institutions targeting Michfest to hold them accountable for this misuse and misdirection of organizational resources, and to withdraw their time and dollars from these organizations until the targeting of Michfest ends. Sisters – we urge you to redirect your money to organizations that speak to your lives and speak for you.

5. Join the Conversation, Not the Digital Sound Bite War.

Our community is strong enough to hold disagreement and to engage deeply with each other, face-to-face, through difficulty. The Michfest community welcomes conversation; we do not stifle it. We have and will continue to remain in community with those trans womyn for whom Michfest has been home; trans womyn like those organizing the New Narratives Conference who do not require females to disappear ourselves or our unique experiences to prove our political and social solidarity.

We turn to our LGBTQ community and say: we hear your truths; we ask you to acknowledge that you hear ours.

Listen to the voices of the tens of thousands of women who call Michfest home. Join the conversation in person in your home communities, not exclusively through social media platforms or online petitions. We invite our sisters to participate in this conversation in person on the Land. Make room in your heart to hold difference of opinion and disagreement – this is the challenging path to honoring true diversity. We turn to our LGBTQ community and ask you to unite with us in the belief that we can work together as a movement and stand together in solidarity. We ask you to work with us, not against us.

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  • wiredpup

    Not everything in this world needs to be inclusive.

  • DarkZephyr

    I have noticed that when men try to gather like this they are often derided.

  • tricky ricky

    I had a straight woman friend who went with some of my lesbian friends to this years ago. the rule was NOTHING WITH A PENIS ALLOWED (with the exception I think of very small children). they did allow female to male transsexuals who didn’t have a penis.

  • BitterOldQueen

    Another example of the circular-firing-squad problem, and the persistent ability of the trans community and their supporters to identify the utterly wrong enemies.

  • SpunkyBunks

    I’m starting to give up hope on humanity and assume everybody is an asshole from the get go!

  • Masc Pride

    I think Lisa makes a very good point here:

    “We turn to our LGBTQ community and say: we hear your truths; we ask you to acknowledge that you hear ours.”

    Sadly, this community has become quite used to barking demands at others (that even we don’t live up to) without even attempting to empathize with other struggling demographics. Feminism isn’t about trans, the very notion that it somehow should be is extremely misogynistic.

    @wiredpup: Agreed! They’re “excluding” males too, yet none of us are whining about misandry.

  • hyhybt

    @Masc Pride: Nobody is claiming that feminism should be *about* trans. Nobody is saying anything that could RATIONALLY be interpreted that way. Only that it ought to INCLUDE trans.

    The main thing I take out of this is that people who insist on spellings like “womyn” are kooks.

  • Cam

    They said “”Again, it is not the inclusion of trans womyn at Festival that we resist; it is the erasure of the specificity of female experience in the discussion of about the space itself that stifles progress in this conversation.”

    Lets try saying that another way.

    It isn’t the inclusion of women in this organization that we resist, it is the erasure of the specificity of the male experience in the discussion of the space itself that stifles progress in this conversation.


    It isn’t the inclusion of minorities in this organization that we resist, it is the erasure of the specificity of the white experience in the discussion of the space itself that stifles progress in this conversation.

    Claiming that you are not discriminatory because rather than kicking people out you ask them not to come in the first place is beyond idiotic. For years this group of “Womyn” have been able to scream that anybody who disagrees with them was sexist, so they never really actually had to learn how to have a rational discussion. In other words, the reason they sound so stupid is because they’ve never had to sound intelligent before.

    They should have the guts to just state what their real opinion is….i.e. in their eyes, if you weren’t born a woman you never will be one. But they don’t want to admit to that opinion about Transfolks so they torture the English Language desperately trying to avoid that admission.

  • 1EqualityUSA

    hyhybt, So funny! We laugh about that spelling. I look forward to the day when molecules don’t have such a hold on us. I want nothing to do with this festival. Good for the Indigo Gir’s for finally realizing that exclusionary mindsets are so…’70’s.

  • Sansacro

    Completely agree.

    Furthermore, holding onto selective differences, like a dog to a bone, only reinforces certain distinguishing characteristics over others (male/female; gay/straight; black/white). Personally, I could not care less who they include or exclude, but the whole festival seems retrograde, not progressive.

  • 1EqualityUSA

    Truth is, if you locked these characters on an island for 25 years, they would separate out each other so fiercely that it would be Lord of the Flies by the end of their stay. It’s human nature to exclude, very basic human nature, boringly so.

  • Masc Pride

    @hyhybt: Why does it need to INCLUDE trans if its intention is to uplift females?? Maybe trans should create their own festival. I highly doubt the ladies that attend MichFest would be outraged over a festival to empower trans. Like I said, the festival “excludes” males as well; do you think that’s unfair too? Go after the real problem and stop trying to bully “the little guy” (women’s festivals, bear bars, etc.). Once upon a time there was no MichFest or Denver Wrangler. These groups proactively created their own instead of bitching and waiting on others to change and include them. It’s not necessary for EVERYTHING to be all-inclusive.

  • brooklyndyke

    Hey Queerty, you should probably get your facts straight — it was LAST YEAR that the Indigo Girls played the festival for the last time, the 38th festival in 2013. I’m all for trans inclusion, but it’s hard to take you seriously when you don’t even do your research.

  • Gothrykke

    Yet another example of bigots being bigots and expecting us to accept their special snowflake exceptions.

    “We’re so stupyd we can’t even spehl. Gril Powyr!”

  • michael mellor

    Much ado about nothing. I can understand why women would be offended by the presence of wannabes.

  • inbama

    Only women “torture the English language?”

    Did a medical doctor “assign you a gender” at birth?
    When you look at childhood photos of Chastity Bono and Charlie Mock, do you say Charlie is a girl and Chastity is a boy? Do you believe someone who calls a girl a girl and a boy a boy is “transphobic?”
    Do you consider “same sex orientation” to be “transphobic?”
    Do you believe that thinking you’re a man because you were born a man “trivializes” your identity? That it means you are “defined” by an “insignificant dangle” while transpeople “really understand gender” and are “defined by their minds?”
    Do you believe children should be raised “without genders?”
    Do you believe that gays, straights, asexuals and bisexuals should be lumped together as “cisgenders?” That we all somehow worked together to create “cisgender privilege” to subordinate transgenders?

    Look, I think the Ts should have their rights, but we need to stop letting them speak for us. Go to any blog and you’ll see them spewing this craziness ALL the time, and if you refuse to be “educated” into speaking their transcrap, you are labeled transphobic. They’ve made us into a laughingstock. In my local paper, kids now refer to us as LGBWTF.

    How can you blame feminists for not wanting to have done to their movement what’s been done to ours?

  • pressuredrop

    I just wish they would have explained why it is so important their festival-base was BORN female, instead of going on about how they’re totally not bigoted and in fact being persecuted themselves by the mere implication.

  • 1EqualityUSA

    Inbama, our community is strong enough to survive, “being laughed at” by baby goats in a local paper. We’ve endured worse.

  • Cam


    I love your game, you ask a bunch of silly questions because you cannot directly address my actual comments. Fine, play your little game. But at it’s core the only issue here is…..this festival has said that trans-women cannot attend.

    But thank you for providing an example of how you have relied on a victimhood defense to avoid any real discussion. MY comment was “in their eyes, if you weren’t born a woman you never will be one. But they don’t want to admit to that opinion about Transfolks so they torture the English Language desperately trying to avoid that admission.”

    Your response was “Only women “torture the English language?””

    Funny, I never said that only women do that, but since you were unable to actually come up with a rational response to my post you had to scramble back to your usual defense that you were the victim and lie about what was said.

    Funny, that is exactly what the right wing fundamentalist Christians say when told they need to stop being bigots. Interesting how similar you sound.

  • Mykaels

    I do understand the festival’s perspective. It is an experience of being born, raised and having to live with being a female that is different from someone born a man, raised as a man, but then transitions to female, even though he might have always felt and identified with as a female. The festival is a retreat for women who suffer with misogyny.

    That said, times change, and organizations must change as well. We are now seeing a new era in which an increasing number of households and families embrace their trans children. In ten years you will have women who were born male, and might even still have their male genitalia, but who live as, identify as, experience life as, a woman, and because of that, will have an experience of being subjected to misogyny their entire life. Thus there will be a need for these trans women a place for them to talk about, share with, and emotionally heal from, the misogyny of their life experiences.

    And if organizations life this do not embrace change, do not accept new allies and new blood, they will find themselves on the loosing end to organizations and “women’s festivals” that seek to celebrate and nourish ALL women, not just “certain types of” women.

    Even today, the church’s that embrace all minorities and their plight are the ones that are growing and becoming strong, while the church’s that embrace hate and bigotry are shrinking. You either grow and adapt, or wither and die.

  • jayj150

    I just think it’s funny that women are being called kooks for playfully changing the spelling to ‘womyn’ by the same people who think ‘shim’, ‘hir’, ‘zhim’, etc. are actual valid pronouns in the English language.

    And by the way, why do transsexuals get to have their own parades, festivals and media, where, by the way, they get to be as homophobic as they want(the Transvocate anyone?) but gay and lesbian folks are forced to share every single space with non-gay people simply because they’re transsexuals?. Why is it discriminatory when we do it but it’s perfectly acceptable for them to exclude everybody else?.

    And those gay men who are critizing women for wanting to preserve an all-women space that way; you are being collossally hypocritical. Even in all-inclusive gay meccas like SF, it’s not unusual to find ‘only men’ clubs and no lesbian is complaining.

    It’s inconceivable to me that some gay men would rather support raging homophobes like Parker Molloy and “straight women” like Mock and Carrera instead of our lesbian sisters. Maybe it’s just me, but I fail to connect with someone who grew up and lived most of his life as a heterosexual man(and a homophobic, married one at that) like Molloy, or someone who went to the lenghts Mock went just so she could be a perfectly “normal straight woman”. I’m a proud gay man, I’ve never wanted to ‘transition’ to change who I am, and I’ll always support and have the back of my lesbian sisters.

  • Cam

    @jayj150: said…

    “I just think it’s funny that women are being called kooks for playfully changing the spelling to ‘womyn’ by the same people who think ‘shim’, ‘hir’, ‘zhim’, etc. are actual valid pronouns in the English language.”

    Just to start off, when women do it, it’s “Playful” and when others do it it is serious. Way to bait the results there.

    As for gay men being hypocritical because apparently it is supposedly not unusual to find men only “Clubs”. I have to say a few things.

    1. If they are so common lets see some numbers.
    2. It’s only hypocritical if the people commenting on here are members or supporters.
    3. Private clubs are different than a public festival or business.
    4. The idiocy is in their defenses. If they just actually made a declarative statement that would be one thing, but their desperation is to discriminate without claiming to discriminate, and then play the victim when it is pointed out. That is why it set everybody’s bullshit detector off.

    I would have no problem at all if a lesbian festival was doing this, but remember, this is NOT a lesbian festival. It is a womyn’s festival.

  • jayj150

    @Cam: No woman would ever call you a mysoginist for using ‘women’ instead of ‘womyn’, but we all know what the inmediate response of a transsexual would be if you didn’t use one of their crazy pronouns: ‘that’s transphobic!!!’.

    Michfest is not publicly funded, so they have as much right to decide who can come in as any ‘men-only’ dance club in SF. And whether it’s a lesbian or a ‘womyn’s’ festival is irrelevant.

    As for their defense, even if you have a point, can you blame them?. Virulent homophobic transactivists would come after them the same way they’ve come after Rupaul and anyone who dares to have a dissenting opinion. And you know what?. Their argument about the festival being for ‘women-born-women’ is a perfectly valid one. The trans experience is a completetly different one, that is why they themselves have their TRANS-ONLY spaces, festivals and media.

    I don’t know if you’re a gay man or not, but as someone who came out early in life and grew up as a gender-non-conforming male, I can see why they would want to have a space for people who have truly shared that experience, not someone like Molloy who up until a few years ago lived his entire life as a privileged heterosexual(even married) man.

  • Cam


    My issue isn’t that they want a space, it’s that they are inconsistent AND do not want to admit that there is discrimination.

    I.E. they allow trans-men. So these people identify as men, but they are allowed.

    They keep trying to claim that they aren’t discriminatory, but the policy is. They should just admit it and shut up.

  • inbama

    Cam, you break my heart.

    But maybe there’s hope – you did at least call my questions “silly.” Those “silly” questions are of course actual quotes that we’ve all heard here or over in the Advocate almost every day. They represent the preposterous ideas that Trans activists insist we accept under penalty of being called “transphobic.”

    So when you spoke of lesbian feminists “torturing” language, I had to respond as my grievance with the Transcommunity is their utter debasement of the English language and their insistence that everyone speak their tongue.

    I am saddened that you have called me a bigot and compared me to a Fundamentalist – these are the kinds of insults I’d expect from the Trans Language Gestapo.

    So, maybe there is no hope after all.
    Maybe I’m too late.
    Maybe that pod hidden under your bed by the Trans Planters has come to life and taken the place of the Cam we used to know. A once proud gay man – a man by birth who loved other men – is now a Homogenderal: a Person Who Identifies As Male who loves other Persons Who Identify As Male regardless of what either he or they were Assigned At Birth.

    Of course, as Jerry Seinfeld once said, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

  • Cam

    @inbama: said… “So when you spoke of lesbian feminists “torturing” language,”

    This is the SECOND time I have had to correct you. My comment was “MY comment was “in their eyes, if you weren’t born a woman you never will be one. But they don’t want to admit to that opinion about Transfolks so they torture the English Language desperately trying to avoid that admission.”

    Your first response was “Only women “torture the English language?””

    And now your second attempt at claiming victim-hood here is by saying “So when you spoke of lesbian feminists torturing the language”.

    One thing everybody should notice, is that when you do not have an answer you have to invent a phony attack so you can then pretend to respond to that.

    If you had a valid point you would not have to invent comments by others that were never made.

    At it’s core, once again, the festival organized and run by straight and lesbian women, so nice try there, wants to exclude Transwomen, but they do not want to come right out and say “Yeah, we exclude them, we understand it’s discriminatory but we still do” so instead they are going to hell and back to obfuscate that fact. Have whatever festival they want, it is only their responses that make everybody’s B.S. detector go off. As if your obvious attempt to invent a conversation that never happened.

    But really, your main problem isn’t with me, it is apparently with all the groups like the Indigo Girls who are no longer going to be playing the festival.

  • Cam


    As for me being a “Trans Pod Person”, no, I was all for telling that irrational hate monger Parker Molloy to fuck off. My issue again, with this festival, is that these womyn need to grow a backbone. Keep it short and simple but at least admit what they are doing.

    Nobody born a male is allowed. Yes, we understand that at it’s core this can be seen as discriminatory but we hope that just as the trans community asks for understanding, that they will in turn be understanding.”

    They might still get told to go to hell and called bigots, but at least they haven’t wasted everybody’s time with those ridiculous rambling statements attempting to justify everything.

  • wpewen

    Thirty years ago I was denied entry to a music event as a gay guy because “no men were allowed on THE LAND!” A bunch of highly neurotic women, God knows what their orientation was (who cares!)
    Now I’m kinda a 56 (young looking!)little bearded daddy whos’ gettin sick of all of it. Don’t mind too much but when I signed on it was GAY. Guys who just liked guys. Some got pissed when L got shove in front. Now it’s trans. No problem but don’t have much in common even with the boys and their a&f. Some of you guys may be amazed, even grossed out,how much you may become like your Dads. And actually grow to sort of like it….

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